By Lance Henderson
Thousands of people came out to watch the Whatcom Museum host the public opening of the Lightcatcher on Saturday, Nov. 14. Admission was free on opening day.
After a ribbon cutting ceremony at 11 a.m., the doors of the long-anticipated building, located at Grand Avenue and Flora Street, opened at noon. Singers and musicians from the Wade King Elementary School choir kicked off the festivities, followed by brief remarks by Mayor Dan Pike, Congressman Rick Larsen and Public Facilities Board President Dunham Gooding.
A joint effort of hundreds of citizens, businesses and organizations that include the Public Facilities District, the Campaign for the Arts, the Whatcom Community Foundation and the Whatcom Museum Foundation, the Lightcatcher is “a gift for the community, from the community,” said Campaign For the Arts Board President Ken Culver.
“We tip our hats to the museum, its board and members,” Culver said in a press release. “The whole arts community is absolutely delighted that we were able to bring all these various entities together to create this cornerstone of our new arts and culture district.”
For the Whatcom Museum, the $18.3 million Lightcatcher represents a pivotal moment in its 68-year history.
“As our first facility designed and built for use as a museum, the Lightcatcher enables the Whatcom Museum to bring world-class art to Bellingham, while expanding our ability to serve our growing community,” said Executive Director Patricia Leach in a statement. “We couldn’t be more excited, or more grateful to the people of Bellingham and Whatcom County for their enthusiastic and generous support.”
The Lightcatcher opens with two dramatic exhibitions that give people the chance to see significant works of art by internationally recognized artists: Out of Bounds: Art from the Collection of Driek and Michael Zirinsky and Bloom: The Elephant Bed, a site-specific installation by Seattle-based artist John Grade.
Defined by an iconic, 180-foot-long glass wall, the facility was designed by architecture firm Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen’s founding partner Jim Olson. The Seattle-based firm is the recipient of the American Institute of Architects 2009 Architecture Firm Award.
In joining the Whatcom Museum’s original home, the historic Old City Hall, and the Syre Education Center, the Lightcatcher adds 42,000 square feet of gallery, education, storage and public spaces to its “campus” between Prospect, Flora and Grand in the heart of Bellingham’s cultural district.
In addition to state-of-the-art, humidity- and temperature-controlled galleries for traveling and local exhibitions, the Lightcatcher is home to the innovative and highly anticipated Family Interactive Gallery (FIG), formerly known as the Children’s Museum. The FIG integrates 63 works of art from the Museum’s permanent collection as well as a mural by D.W. Miller and numerous references to the Northwest natural environment.